University of Kansas

Kansas football will rely on freshmen

For college football programs in good shape, the hope is that a handful of freshmen are talented and game-ready enough to challenge upperclassmen and make an impact during their first season on campus.

So, for Kansas fans hoping for a quick turnaround in Year 2 under Turner Gill, Gill's prediction Wednesday that he expects at least half of his 28 recruits to play next season had to be a little jarring.

There are many ways to evaluate that statement, but none speak very highly of the talent KU is returning from a team that went 3-9 and was firmly handled by most Big 12 competition.

"What's really driving me to say today that they're gonna play is speed," Gill said. "The thing we need to have on this football team is speed. There's people on our football team that are gonna get faster, too, but we're gonna have competition."

Last season, only three first-year freshmen played — running back James Sims, safety Keeston Terry and defensive end Keba Agostinho. That number was more the norm, but this group is the first class of recruits that Gill and his staff have put together from top to bottom. It would be natural for him to have higher expectations from Day 1.

Still, other than junior college linebackers Tunde Bakare and Malcolm Walker — who will be the 28th recruit when his letter of intent arrives at KU — most of the new guys will be 18 years old. And most will need to mature mentally and physically before becoming legitimate Big 12-caliber players.

But Gill is fixated on speed, and it appears the guys who have more of it will receive more of a chance to play right away. Gill went out of his way Wednesday to mention that most of these recruits ran track in high school. He pointed out that Olathe North defensive back Adonis Saunders has won the state championship in the 100 and 200 meters in 2009.

Gill said KU also tried to recruit faster players on the offensive and defensive lines.

"They are explosive, and they can run," Gill said.

Gill's class, ranked 33rd nationally by, is packed with three-star prospects who had offers from BCS programs. It is a good class, especially coming off a tough first season on the field.

KU, which is low on depth at offensive line, linebacker and the defensive line, secured six offensive linemen, six linebackers and four defensive ends. Gill said he used an "outside-in" approach recruiting the lines, which means that the linemen will all begin their careers as offensive tackles and defensive ends.

On the offensive line, Gill wants to find out which of the guys have the athleticism to play tackle. If they are a better fit to play guard or center, they can move inside later.

On the defensive line, Gill wants to find out which of the guys can turn into pass rushers. Those who don't have the speed to get outside will put on weight and move inside. Gill said it's a method he learned as an assistant at Nebraska.

"If we have someone who has quick movement as a defensive lineman," Gill said, "you have a chance to cause more havoc. When you cause more havoc, you cause more turnovers."